This week Writer’s Blog will be exploring literary devices to help you along with your writing. Literary devices are techniques and structures writers employ to convey their message and story. When done well, the use of literary devices can alter, manipulate and challenge the way a reader perceives any work. Used masterfully, literary devices influence how a story or essay can be interpreted and analysed, as well as how much the reader enjoys the work. Today’s device is Flashback:
How To Master Flashback
A flashback involves (as the name describes) a scene that moves from the present to the past to reveal something about a character or event within the narrative. Generally in fiction, the use of a flashback constitutes using white space to separate the past from the present, to signal to the reader that there has been a change in time and/or place. In some cases, a writer may choose to use italics (usually if the scene is more of a memory snippet than an actual fully-developed scene, as lots of italicized text irritates some readers and editors).
The best flashbacks are set up by the previous paragraph. In the lead up to the flashback, there is generally a ‘trigger’ – something that causes the protagonist/narrator to recall a particular event or detail of the past. The trigger is explored/explained in the flashback itself which then also reveals new information to the reader.
Flashbacks are an opportunity for the author to provide insight into situations that would otherwise be left unexplained…
Used in short stories, poems, novels, plays and movies, it is one of the most common and most recognisable writing techniques, and when executed well, one of the most effective.
- The Road (film): The director has used flashbacks throughout the whole film to reveal to the viewer how in a post-apocalyptic world, a father and son came to be on the road, homeless and unprotected.
- Breaking Bad (television series): This series is renowned for doing things differently, and the use of flashback here is no exception. In Breaking Bad, the flashbacks often come first and are then later explained and explored in the next few episodes, setting up a sense of intrigue within its viewers.
- Harry Potter (book series): Yes, even the Harry Potter novels use flashback. Remember the Pensieve that Dumbledore uses? The reader (and Harry) are transported back in time to relive the memories of Dumbledore and others.
Tips for Using Flashbacks:
- Use a trigger to justify taking the reader back into the past. This is the most natural way to introduce scenes from the past as this is actually how we recall memories in real life – we see something that reminds us of an event, person or detail that occurred in the past.
- Also ensure that you use another trigger or event to bring your character (and reader) back to the present. This gives your reader clear signals as to when you are changing from past to present and present to past, in order to keep them immersed in the story, but not disorientated and confused.
- Think of these triggers as ‘bookends’ to your flashback – they need to be there to keep this scene neat and tidy, but also shouldn’t stand out like a sore thumb (excuse the cliche).
- Don’t overdo it. Don’t litter your narrative with multiple flashbacks, this becomes irritating and confusing for the reader, but also questions the validity of you setting your story in the present when more is actually happening in the past… If you find you are doing this often, you might want to have a think about changing when you set your story.
- Ensure that each flashback contributes to your story in someway or another, whether it reveals something about a particular event, builds upon your characterization of the protagonist or sets up something for further down the track in the narrative – it has to propel the story forward, even though you’re looking back.
For some fantastic tips for writing successful flashbacks, check out this article at Writer’s Digest.
This week Writer’s Blog will be exploring literary devices to help you along with your writing. Literary devices are techniques and structures writers employ to convey their message and story. When done well, the use of literary devices can alter, manipulate and challenge the way a reader perceives any work. Used masterfully, literary devices influence how a story or essay can be interpreted and analysed, as well as how much the reader enjoys the work. Today’s device is Dialogue:
How To Master Dialogue
What is dialogue?
“Dialogue is not just quotation. It is grimaces, pauses, adjustments of blouse buttons, doodles on a napkin, and crossings of legs.” – Jerome Stern, Making Shapely Fiction
Not all of the following are used together, however, dialogue consists of four main elements:
- Spoken words – the direct speech or the words within the quote marks.
- Speech tags – the words that tell the reader who is speaking and how they are speaking.
- Actions of the speaker – a description of the speaking character’s actions before, during and after speech.
- Thoughts or emotional state of the speaker – a description of the speaking character’s emotional state before, during and after speech.
When characters start talking to each other, the story comes to life. A reader can gain a far deeper understanding of a character through their words and actions than they can from the narrative text. A couple of sentences of dialogue can reveal much about the background of a particular character. Are they wealthy or poor? What is their country of origin? Have they been well-educated? Are they feeling happy or sad? All of these questions can be answered with effective dialogue.
What should dialogue do?
- Reveal emotions
- Draw the reader into the characters’ lives
- Show the reader how the character reacts to different situations, such as pressure, intimacy, hate, love or fear
- Move the story forward – every piece of dialogue should have a purpose
- Hint at or tell of coming events
- Give balance to a story after a long section of narrative
- Increase the pace of the story
- Contribute humour
- Reflect the changes in emotions and lifestyle of your characters
What should dialogue not do?
- Summarise action that could otherwise be exciting
- Force-feed information to the reader – tell a character something they would already know, purely to fill in background to the reader
- Act as padding to achieve a word count
- Ramble on without the characters learning anything knew or achieving something
- Sound exactly like real speech, with interruptions, rambling, repetitions and stutters, although these have their place
Tips for Writing Dialogue
Remember, most people speak quite simply. If you dress up a character’s speech too much it will sound unrealistic.
“If you are using dialogue, say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.” – John Steinbeck
Better yet, grab a few friends and act it out, taking note of the speech tags and the actions of the speaker. This can be very entertaining and you’ll be able to see very quickly where your dialogue falls down.
Now over to you.
This week Writer’s Blog will be exploring literary devices to help you along with your writing. Literary devices are techniques and structures writers employ to convey their message and story. When done well, the use of literary devices can alter, manipulate and challenge the way a reader perceives any work. Used masterfully, literary devices influence how a story or essay can be interpreted and analysed, as well as how much the reader enjoys the work. Today’s device is Prologue:
How To Master Prologue
“What’s past is prologue” – William Shakespeare
This comes from Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, spoken by the character Antonio who suggests that the events of the past set the stage for the present. The quote is engraved on the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, which houses the most important of the United States’ historical documents. But in a literary work, while the prologue itself precedes the beginning of the story, it can contain events of the past or the future.
What is a prologue?
The prologue serves as an introduction, giving readers important information from the past or the future about the text that follows. It may establish the setting, introduce the characters or indicate a theme or moral in the story. Generally, the prologue is short and will only cover one or two pages. Most prologues are written by the author of the work.
A prologue can foreshadow events and conflict in a way that beginning in the middle of the action can’t. It is used when material that you want to include in the opening is out of time sequence with the rest of the story, giving readers information that is otherwise unobtainable within the normal structure of the novel. A prologue must also be a vital part of the whole text, not just added on before the opening chapter for no reason.
The Redwall Series
Popular children’s author Brian Jacques used both a prologue and an epilogue to frame each story in his Redwall series. Jacques uses the prologue effectively to establish the setting and introduce readers to minor characters with a meaningful story to tell. In these opening scenes, the dialogue between the characters is intended to draw the reader in, as much as it does to the characters who are listening in the story.
The Noon Lady of Towitta
In Patricia Sumerling’s mystery, The Noon Lady of Towitta, the unusually long prologue describes the events leading to the arrival of the police on the farm at Towitta, an isolated town in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia. The prologue is straight-forward and written in third person. The story that follows is told from the first person perspective of Mary Schippan, the lady suspected of murdering her younger sister. Mary Schippan could not have given readers a clear picture of the events preceding the police investigation as she was not present, so the author chooses to employ a prologue. Without it, readers don’t have the necessary background required to understand the story and so obtain it outside of the first person structure of Mary’s narrative.
The Da Vinci Code
In Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, the prologue is employed firstly to establish the plot and setting of the book. Opening at the Louvre Museum in Paris, readers are presented with an event at a specific time and place around which the entire novel is plotted. Jacques Sauniere, the curator of the museum, is shot by a mysterious man and must use his dying breaths to keep his secret alive.
“A collection of the world’s most famous paintings seemed to smile down on him like old friends.” – Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code
The prologue also establishes a significant theme throughout the novel – the importance of art. As he bleeds to death, Sauniere is surrounded by many famous artworks, one of which, we can assume, is Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, a painting that plays a critical role in the author’s plot.
Writing an effective prologue
The most important feature of a prologue, like any literary device, is that it serves a purpose. Check to see if your prologue is doing a job. Does it establish the setting? Does it introduce characters, or a theme, or a moral? What does it add to the whole work? If it doesn’t have a clear purpose, you don’t need it.
Tip: Read prologues written by your favourite authors
Search for prologues written by the authors on your bookshelf. They’ve been published, so you can assume that the prologue is well written and employed. Look at the length and the style of the writing. The more prologues you read, the better you will understand when and how to use them effectively, if at all.
Tip: Practice writing first lines
Essentially, if you’re using a prologue, you are starting your book twice so you’ll need two great opening lines. It can be useful to practise writing clever opening lines, enticing the reader to continue. If you’re already working on something, ask yourself if the first line is the best it can be. Shuffle the words around. Try a selection of synonyms. Work with it and keep practising.
Tip: Write a prologue for a book that doesn’t have one
Choose a novel without a prologue and consider how one could be used. Try to find something in the text to link with your prologue – a theme, the setting, or even some additional background information. Be creative! You could give a character a secret that affects how they respond to events in the story. Don’t feel discouraged if you find that your new prologue doesn’t work – this just means that you are improving your ability to detect ineffective use of the device.
Although writers live more in an electronic workspace of word processors, ebooks, social media and The Internet, there are still 3 tools essential to any writers tool box…